CHRISTMAS COMPARED > Christmas in the USA and Germany
Christmas in Austria, Germany, Switzerland
Tradition, Three Kings, and Kris Kringle
Although we usually take today’s Christmas celebration customs for granted, most of the so-called “traditional” Christmas practices only date back to the 19th century.
Even the date of the celebration of Christ’s birth has fluctuated. Until the Roman church adopted December 25 in the 4th century, January 6 was the day of celebration — today’s Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige (the “Wise Men,” “Three Kings,” the Magi) in German. To this day, the initials of the Three Kings — C+M+B (Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) — plus the year are inscribed in chalk on or over doorways in German-speaking countries on or before January 6 to protect house and home. (Although historically the three letters are supposed to come from the Latin phrase for “Christ bless this house” — “Christus mansionem benedicat” — few of the people practicing this custom are aware of this fact.) In many parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the Christmas celebration does not end until this date, now considered the arrival of the three “kings of the orient” in Bethlehem — and the end of the “twelve days of Christmas” between Christmas and January 6.
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One German Christmas custom the US has yet to adopt is the two-day celebration. The day after Christmas Day — der zweite Weihnachtstag, known as Boxing Day in Britain — is also a holiday in Germany. There are many other Christmas customs and traditions — national, regional, and local — unique to German Europe. You can learn about them by following our numerous Christmas links, and reading our other Christmas pages such as the “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) page.
NEXT > The Christmas Tree
Christmas in the USA and Germany - A comparison chart
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Related Pages - Christmas
- Advent and Christmas - The “arrival”
- Christmas A to Z - German Christmas topics and terms
- Christmas in the USA and Germany - A comparison chart
- The Christmas Tree and its German history
- Barbarazweig - The legend and the Christmas custom
- Epiphany and the Sternsinger - About January 6 in the Germanic Christmas tradition
- Erntedank (“harvest thanksgiving”) or Erntedankfest in Germany and Austria is different from the American Thanksgiving tradition. More...
- St. Nicholas - The many German St. Nicks
- Thomas Nast created the modern Santa image.
- The German Pickle Ornament - Is it really a German tradition?
- Glass Ornaments - a history
- Silent Night (Stille Nacht) - Our “Silent Night” page has the true story and related links.
- Christmas Links - Our links list is so large, it has a page of its own!